deepwater horizon report cover

You’ve heard there’s a gigantic plume of toxic muck at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico; you’ve seen the fouled beaches and even bought the commemorative tar ball tchotchke. But unless you’re a policy wonk, you might not have known that there was a commission tasked with figuring out who should go in the stocks for it — or that yesterday, they issued their final report. Let us walk you through the basics …

Spoiler Alert: Everyone screwed up

BP, the contractors, everyone. Indeed, the entire industry is responsible for “systemic” failures:

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The commission’s final report… says the blowout and subsequent spill were not due to the mistakes of a single company. Instead, the commission… makes the case that it happened because of a combination of failures by all the companies and contractors drilling the Macondo well as well as the government regulators who should have been overseeing them.

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Lax oversight, again

Like Enron, the financial crisis of ’08, and countless other failures of regulatory will and/or reach, this spill was the product of regulators being “outmatched” by the industry they were supposed to be policing. The solution, says the commission, is to beef up the Department of Interior with more money/guns/tricked-out Aston Martins, etc.

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The office should not only regulate the industry but raise its safety and environmental standards, the commission said. It found that Norway and the United Kingdom now have stricter regulations and a better safety record.


To drill or not to drill, that is the question

The commission wants more regulation of offshore drilling, but not an outright ban. They even said it’s cool if we drill in the Arctic, as long as we wear protection. Thanks, dad!

Republicans and pro-drilling Democrats are calling for Interior to resume permitting for deepwater projects and, longer term, open new areas for offshore drilling. 

Environmentalists and many other Democrats, meanwhile, say expanded drilling is unsafe. The Obama administration has backed off plans to sell oil-and-gas leases off the Atlantic Coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The Hill

As usual, we’re all a bunch of hypocrites

WE SAID EVERYONE SCREWED UP. That means you. In an opinion piece that predates the report by months but remains relevant pretty much forever, Chris Nelder said:

For every finger pointed at an oil company, three point back at us.

Like the whaling ships of the late 1800s that would sail to the ends of the earth in search of whale oil, deepwater drilling is proof that we are willing to pay enormous sums and go to extraordinary lengths and depths to get oil. We have chosen to accept the risks of environmental damage, the horror of oil wars, and the deaths of rig workers in exchange for a continuing supply of cheap, convenient fuel.

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Obama — Man of action

So what’s to be done about all this? Probably nothing, if our newly obstructionist Congress has its way, but Obama may be planning an end run:

President Barack Obama has asked his staff to determine whether he can use executive orders to bypass Congress and enact some of the recommendations from the bipartisan commission he created to probe the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.


If this happens, look for a political firestorm to erupt as the president’s opponents declare executive overreach. If it doesn’t happen, expect complaints about executive wussiness next time something like this happens. Either way, The Man wins.